What is a Minster?
As a Tour Guide, I regularly guide in York and York Minster is always part of the itinerary. I spent weeks in there training for my Institute of Tourist Guiding Yorkshire Blue Badge and also became an accredited York Minster Guide. When taking people around this gothic architectural masterpiece I often get asked “what is a Minster?”, so I thought it was worth a quick explanation as Yorkshire has many other churches with Minster status. Just think Beverley Minster, Halifax Minster, Dewsbury Minster, Howden Minster or Leeds Minster.
The word “Minster” is a Saxon word which comes from the Latin “Monasterium”.
Monasterium essentially means “community” and is where the word Monastery comes from. Originally, Minsters would have been communities of Monks, but they could also be communities of Priests or clergy living together who had devoted their life to Christian observance.
It is worth noting that the word Minster and Church has started to become distinctly different entities by the 10th century.
Minsters had the remit to go out into the local area and reach out as part of a religious Mission. These Minsters were the bases where missionaries went out and spread the Christian faiths.
Minsters were prevalent during the later stages of 10th century during the Anglo Saxon era to convert villages and towns to Christianity, were pagan Scandinavian settlers had intermixed with the Saxon population.
But churches like Halifax and Leeds have more recently converted to Minster status to act as “Mission hubs” in their local communities. Above - Beverley Minster
This is a theme that has been linked to Minsters for centuries, with the Saxons offering refreshments to all who came to their door. This continued after the Norman conquest with Benedictine monks committing to treat anyone who came to their doors as if they were Christ himself visiting in disguise.
Minsters nowadays provide hospitality to local communities, hosting large events, providing refreshments, meeting spaces and places for charities to meet.
Still relevant today
Whilst York Minster’s official title is The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York and it is the second most important church in England- its focus on community and spreading the word of God which gave it Minster status still exist. Yorkshire’s other Minsters, whilst no longer being communities of Monks and Priests, are still important in the local community and still function as Missions from which to go out into the locality and hubs for the wider community.